Judge removes Md. General Hospital from lawsuit

Federal action was filed by a former lab worker

July 01, 2004|By Julie Bell | Julie Bell,SUN STAFF

A federal judge has dismissed Maryland General Hospital as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Kristin Turner, a former lab worker who says she contracted HIV in a laboratory accident and whose allegations led to state and federal investigations into the hospital's laboratory and billing practices.

The Baltimore hospital remains under close scrutiny by federal and state investigators. On Wednesday, a congressional panel will hold the second of two hearings sparked by problems.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who requested the hearings, was given a tour of the hospital yesterday. Afterward, he said in a news conference that he is convinced the laboratory has made vast strides since regulators found it gave hundreds of people human immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis test results despite indications they might be wrong.

"I've concluded the hospital is probably better off now than it has been in many, many years," Cummings said, noting that an outside firm has taken over laboratory operations.

Cummings said he plans to go ahead with the next hearing. He said the scandal has pointed up the need for nationwide improvements in a number of areas, including the way labs are inspected and accredited.

Judge Andre M. Davis of U.S. District Court in Baltimore notified attorneys of his decision on Turner's claims against Maryland General in a June 17 memorandum, saying a forthcoming opinion will lay out his reasons.

Turner's lawsuit says she contracted HIV, which causes AIDS, and hepatitis C when she was splashed with blood while working on an analyzer manufactured by Adaltis USA Inc. She has claimed the machine, called the Labotech, was faulty.

State and federal regulators continue to oversee Maryland General's efforts to improve its laboratory operations. A state Medicaid fraud investigation, related to laboratory billings, and a federal investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General, also continue.

Turner's lawsuit was not dismissed entirely: Claims remain against Adaltis and a former laboratory administrator she says bought the Labotech. A federal whistle-blower suit filed by a former Maryland General anesthesiologist claims that the hospital inappropriately billed the government for anesthesiology services.

Michael A. Pulver, Turner's attorney, declined to comment yesterday, saying he preferred to await the judge's opinion.

Maryland General attorney J. Mark Coulson said, "I think all we know at this point is the bottom line, which obviously the hospital is pleased about."

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